When you’re new to the workforce or trying to shift into a different industry, finding that first job can feel impossible. All you need is one shot, but the barriers to entry are high. Every time you find a great role, you never seem to qualify. Almost every “entry level” position requires two to five years of experience.
Most employers have these requirements for a reason. They want candidates to have some background in their field to narrow the application pool and attract people with at least a little industry knowledge. While “years of experience” can usually be taken with a grain of salt, your resume should prove that you have the skills to do the job well. Here are four ways to gain that experience and demonstrate you’re the right person for the role.
1) Volunteer or intern for someone you know.
If you can fill your free time with experiences that energize you — and that you can also add to your resume — it will be a win-win. Experience is rarely defined as working full-time. It can be part-time or volunteer work.
To get started, think of people you know: your parents, relatives, caretakers, former professors, alumni, and all their friends. Do any of them work in, or know someone who works in, your field of interest? Ask if you can volunteer or intern with them, even if just for a few days or hours a week. Gaining access to an environment where you can collaborate with seasoned professional will not only help you learn, it’s also an easy way to fill a blank space on your resume.
If you don’t know anyone in your industry, look to your larger community. Have you been involved in any local organizations or groups that need a helping hand right now? This could be youth groups, religious establishments, or nonprofits and charities in your area. If you can help them out — whether through something small like filing documents or something big like organizing an event — you can add it to your resume. Tasks that initially feel tedious can still help you build transferable skills that every company is looking for and that you can highlight on your resume: organization, writing, time management, collaboration, and communication.
2) Do consulting work in your area of interest.
This may sound intimidating, but it’s easier than you imagine. You don’t need to set up an LLC or a registered corporation to offer services. Think about your favorite influencers and thought leaders on TikTok, LinkedIn, Instagram, or the social media platform you like best — people giving job advice, fashion advice, crafting tutorials, or other useful tips to their followers.
You can promote your skills in the same way on these platforms to gain access to people who may need them and offer free consultations. Having a loyal following is a great way to show that your ideas resonate with people in your field. You can even ask connections to forward your content or services to others or make it easily shareable.
If that route doesn’t feel right for you, another option is to offer freelance services through existing companies like Upwork or Fiverr. Any experience gained can be added to your resume.
3) Highlight a series of personal projects.
Depending on your industry, this could be a very smart route to take. For those interested in joining a more creative field or a field in which you’ll need to showcase a portfolio of work, creating personal projects that lead to learning insights or positive outcomes (like traffic growth or audience engagement) is a great way to start building that portfolio — even if you lack experience at an actual company.
Uploading or linking to your work on a personal website is key. You’ll want to make it easily accessible for recruiters and hiring managers. Just make sure it looks professional and representative of your style or brand. This will not only show your determination and grit, but it will also demonstrate your skills and capabilities.
4) Get certified in your field of interest.
Citing a certification on your resume will set you apart from others who also have minimal practical experience and are trying to move into a specific field. The exact certificate you should invest in will depend on your end goal, but there are a few that are relevant for a wide variety of jobs. Becoming a certified associate in project management (CAPM), for instance, is a valuable qualification across industries. Every project in every job you will ever do in your career will benefit from that knowledge.
Technology certifications similarly show your ambition to be an exceptional worker who stays ahead of the trends — particularly those focused on generative AI or machine learning. For people interested in administrative, project management, finance, marketing, or data analysis roles, the Microsoft Office Specialist certification demonstrates the ability to create masterful PowerPoint presentations and use excel formulas. AWS or Google analytics certifications are useful for people pursuing specific fields such as cloud computing or digital marketing, respectively.